Animal of the Week: the tufted puffin

The tufted puffin, shown here with its “summer face” on, is best known for the golden tufts above its eyes even though that feature is shed during the winter. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium)

The tufted puffins are a fan favorite at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and it’s easy to see why. Also known as fratercula cirrhata or lunda cirrhata, these sea birds are best known for the iconic golden tufts over their eyes.

During breeding season, both male and female tufted puffins have black bodies and white faces. They let other puffins know they’re not available by rubbing bills with their partner, which also strengthens their bond.

In winter, those white faces turn gray-black, and their tufts fall away. These birds are rather small, with a wingspan of up to only 23 inches and a body length that ranges up to 15.5 inches. These lightweight flyers only weigh around 1.5 pounds. Despite those tiny numbers, they’re actually the largest species of all puffins.

In the wild, you can find tufted puffins nesting in grassy headlands near the ocean and vertical sea cliffs. You’ll have to search with your eyes though, as they’re a very quiet species; they usually keep silent, except in their nesting colonies where they will utter soft grunts and growls. They can also make an “errrr” sound, similar to that of a quiet chainsaw.

Tufted puffins reach breeding age at around three-years-old and often mate for life, though those pairs also nest in colonies, so they’re never short on company! These seabirds have an average life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, but several of the birds at the aquarium are over 25-years-old. You can visit them in the aviary on your next trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

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